Susan Tedeschi on Community, Creativity and Charging into Johnny Cash

Dean Budnick on January 22, 2021
Susan Tedeschi on Community, Creativity and Charging into Johnny Cash

“It’s easy to make sacrifices if it helps the greater good. It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Susan Tedeschi says matter-of-factly. “You do what you can so that everyone can get by. It’s important to realize, ‘It’s not only about me.’ One thing about our band and our crew that people have noticed over the years, is that we love each other and care about each other. It’s not just a business relationship.”

Tedeschi offers this observation while speaking about the commitment that she and her husband Derek Trucks have made not only to the members of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, but also to their support team during the COVID crisis. By dipping into their savings, and tapping into emergency funds, she says, “Somehow, by the grace of God, we are paying our band and our crew their regular salary until March.”

However, things could become dicey after that, which is why, prior to then, Trucks and Tedeschi will deliver a series of pay-per-view performances. She explains, “We’re going to do a bunch of different sets with different configurations of the band. We’ll do it from our farm, which is about an hour south of Atlanta and a lot closer to the core of the band.”

Beyond assisting the group, Tedeschi notes that proceeds will be directed to various charities that support local artists and aid others in need. “It doesn’t matter what country you live in or what language you speak, most people are interested in the same simple things,” she explains. “They want clean air and water. They want to keep their family fed. They want education for their kids and themselves. It’s the same thing wherever you go in the world. There are different ways of living but it’s all about learning how to live in your environment with those simple things.”

How has the pandemic impacted your creativity?

When it first started, we were already planning on taking three months off because we were burnt out. We’d had a lot of losses—loss of life—between our band and friends. So we were ready to take off March, April and May. At first, I don’t think I even picked up a guitar, except maybe to play along with The Wood Brothers. But I didn’t do any serious writing.

Then everybody in the band really started hunkering down. Derek and Bobby [Tis] were out in the studio every day mixing two different records. They were mixing the Mad Dogs & Englishman set that we did at LOCKN’ with Leon Russell and all the remaining people, as well as the LOCKN’ set where we did the whole Layla record with Trey Anastasio.

We also got together with the band at our farm. We had Falcon [Tyler Greenwell] on drums and Brandon Boone on bass. Then, Gabe [Dixon] came down from Nashville and Mike [Mattison] joined us because he lives an hour from the farm. They all came for about a week and we brought about 20 songs to the table and started to develop them. After that, we went home and worked on more stuff, and returned to the farm about a month later. We’re up to about 28 songs, and I’d say about 12-15 of those songs are in a really good place.

So we’ve been doing that kind of stuff as well as working on our own minds and bodies, trying to get in shape and stay mentally healthy.

There are over two dozen people in your band and crew. Have you remained in communication with everyone?

We’ve been doing something called “Tuesdays at Two” with our crew for a while, just to talk with everyone about what’s going on. On Tuesdays at 2 p.m., Skip [Richman], our tour manager, invites everybody on. And, now, we’ve included some of the band. It’s nice to stay in touch. We can see where everybody’s at, if they’re staying healthy and wearing their masks because we know that there’s a lot of baloney out there. It helps to have a focus and we’ll also talk about our plan, which is to go out and work as soon as it’s safe.

In responding to the current situation, it sounds like you’ve been approaching things from a far-reaching perspective. Do you think that’s due to all the touring that you’ve done over the years?

Absolutely. We have friends who are Republicans and friends who are Democrats, and it doesn’t matter. Those are just titles. This is about people caring for each other and working together. It’s about figuring out how we can come together and have a plan for things that are real, that are happening right now. There are people whose houses are on fire as we speak. There are people getting kicked out of their homes. I can remember playing in a battle of bands at Harper’s Ferry in Boston with Adrienne [Hayes] and Annie [Raines]. After we won it [in 1994], that broke us out of New England, and it opened my eyes to the fact that it doesn’t have to be just your community. I realized that I could spread out and bring my community and my experiences to other places, and tell them about where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Once I did that, and learned about these other communities, I realized how much people are actually alike.

Can you recall a memorable early music-related travel moment outside of New England?

I did musical theater growing up and I really wanted to be Annie because all the little girls did back then. And I remember auditioning on Broadway in 1980, when I was 10, for the touring version of the show. The audition was insane. It was six rows of 10 girls onstage at a time. The producer would go up and down and have everybody sing “Happy Birthday.” Then, if he liked you, he would put you on a list to do call-backs the next day and, if you did well at that, he’d put you on another list. I didn’t get Annie but I was an understudy for a different role, Pepper. I was on call for three months but I never went on the road.

One of my more embarrassing moments happened during that trip. My grandmother, Marie Tedeschi, brought me to New York City and we stayed at the New York Hilton. The Bee Gees were also staying there and, when they pulled up, I ran in to look for my grandmother and almost knocked over Johnny Cash. I ran into him and he was like, “Little lady, where are you going in such a hurry?” I told him, “The Bee Gees are here!” He asked me if I liked the Bee Gees and I answered, “Well, they’re musicians and I’m a singer.” He was like, “I’m a singer too. Maybe we’ll sing together someday.” Then he handed me an “I Love New York” pin that somebody had given him, and I still have it to this day. He was so sweet. He gave me a hug and walked away. Then my grandmother came up to me and asked, “What did Johnny Cash just say to you?” I had no idea that’s who I had just bumped into.